The Last Days of Troy at Shakespeare’s Globe (which stages new plays as well as the Bard’s) is an epic telling of an epic story. It has a foot in the present that brings the horrors and dramas of love and war even more starkly to life.
The classics can be hard to follow, but Simon Armitage’s re-telling of Homer’s Iliad has a pace and clarity that keeps you gripped for the full 2.5+ hours. You may already know a thing or two about the characters; Helen of Troy, the Trojan Horse, the Greek gods Zeus and Athene. Even if you don’t, the 2014 version of Zeus — now a homeless god peddling trinkets at a tourist spot — makes an accessible introduction. So much has changed since then. Yet so much has stayed the same.
British supermodel Lily Cole makes a very watchable, natural Helen. Beautiful, melancholy and powerless after 10 years in Troy, she’s torn between which side to favour. The Trojans are often cast as the bad guys but things are more even here. We get to know the characters and the emotions behind their decisions, with the action and drama mostly taking place in the private chambers of the main players.
It’s clear from the outset that things are not going to end well. This tension is maintained with racing passion up until the catastrophic events of the second half. Richard Bremmer’s Zeus is a wonderful storyteller. The ‘old married-coupled’ fights between him and Hera (Gillian Bevan) ring so true. They’re hilarious.
However, the relationship (whether gay or platonic, something that is constantly up for debate) between Patroclus (Brendan O’Hea) and Greek hero Achilles (Jake Fairbrother) is underplayed to the extent that when Achilles rages at his death, we thought that perhaps we’d missed something.
This was a shame as Achilles’ reaction to the death is such a crucial plot point. That aside, Achilles’ rage and manifestation of it, is perhaps the most gripping and ultimately disturbing part of the play. It’s testament to the darkness that can overtake a man when pushed over the edge.
There are thrilling descriptions of battle and injury throughout, and death scenes that can be hard to watch. Hector (Simon Harrison) is an exceptionally talented, handsome actor who plays the prince with regal honour, passion, integrity and an inspirational strength. His beard alone may have you rooting for the Trojans. Just don’t get too attached…
The Last Days Of Troy is on at Shakespeare’s Globe until 28 June. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.